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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 11/13/2007

Richardson Misstates the Facts on Iraq

By Michael Dobbs

Bill Richardson wants a complete pullout from Iraq.

"Senator Clinton, Obama and Edwards are saying we need to keep troops until 2013, as many as 75,000. I say get 'em all out as soon as possible."

--Bill Richardson, on the Stephanie Miller radio show, November 7, 2007.

"George Bush's "surge" has failed: this summer was the bloodiest yet, and there's no end in sight."

--Statement on Richardson campaign Web site.

Together with Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, Bill Richardson has taken the most radical position of all the Democratic candidates in demanding a complete pullout from Iraq. But he has also distorted the positions of his rivals, and grossly over-simplified the challenge of withdrawing 140,000 troops from the country. This is the third in a series of posts on the positions of candidates in the Iraq war, beginning with the Democrats. For Clinton see here, and Edwards here.

The Facts

Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have NOT said they "need" to keep troops in Iraq until 2013. According to his spokeswoman, Katie Roberts, the Richardson claim relies on statements made during a Democratic debate in Dartmouth on September 26. During that debate, hosted by Tim Russert, the three top Democrats refused to commit to a complete pullout by the end of their first presidential term. But that is different from saying the U.S. must keep troops in Iraq until then.

The other campaigns are also contesting the part about keeping "as many as 75,000" troops in Iraq. According to Roberts, this estimate comes from a March 15, 2007 New York Times article. That article quoted a former Pentagon official, Dov S. Zakheim, as saying that the repositioning of U.S. forces to discourage foreign meddling in Iraq and stop the Kurds in the North from declaring independence would require "no more than 75,000 troops." But none of Richardson's rivals has ever mentioned the 75,000 estimate in their speeches. Obama has promised to withdraw all "combat troops" from Iraq within 16 months; Edwards says he will achieve this goal in 10 months.

Whether they will actually deliver on these promises is another matter, of course. But equally valid question marks can also be raised about Richardson's promises.

Richardson says on his website that he would move troops out of Iraq to "regional bases where we are welcome such as in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey." It is a strange that a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations should think of Saudi Arabia as a "welcoming" place for U.S. troops. Al-Qaeda activists repeatedly targeted U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia. One of the arguments for going into Iraq in the first place was that this would allow us to shut down our bases in Saudi Arabia, the site of the holiest places in the Islamic world, and prevent them becoming targets for Islamic fanatics.

Richardson has promised to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, but has been very vague about how he would fill the resulting security vacuum, other than talking about "an all-Muslim peacekeeping force."

On a different but related subject, the New Mexico governor is entitled to his opinion that George Bush's "surge" has failed miserably. But he is not accurate when he claims that the last summer was "the bloodiest yet" in Iraq. As I argued in a previous post, violence does seem to have been coming down in Iraq since a high of late last year. It is true that more U.S. servicemen were killed in Iraq in the summer of 2007 than the summer of 2006, but the number of U.S. casualties has been falling significantly since August, according to official Pentagon figures.

The Pinocchio Test

Bill Richardson has every right to attack his fellow Democrats and the Bush administration on Iraq, but he needs to be more meticulous about his facts. His own plan for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops leaves many questions unanswered. Two Pinocchios.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | November 13, 2007; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  2 Pinocchios, Candidate Watch, Iraq  
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Next: Obama Blurs Definition of 'Combat Troops'


I hope this to see this type of scrutiny acroos the board. I have heard far more egregious mis-statements by other candidates.

Posted by: gumby | November 13, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Purely on his experience and most of his issues alone, Richardson has shown he is very capable of being president. But as soon as he opens his mouth on the campaign trail you suddenly slap your forehead and question his abilities. This is only one of many of his off-the-cuff idiotic remarks he's made in the last year.

Posted by: TheGribbler | November 13, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I am puzzled by the reasoning that the claim that last summer has been the bloodies yet is inaccurate given that by the columns on admission it happens to be true. Is the idea that it is true but misleading, because it is not representative of a trend?

If this summer's death toll is the highest so far, then the claim that this has been the bloodiest summer so far would actually count as accurate rather than inaccurate.

Posted by: Lon | November 13, 2007 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Nice column. An "all-Muslim peacekeeping force?" Wow.

Redeploying to Jordan or Saudi Arabia is quite different from bringing the troops home and ending the strain on military families. It also prohibits almost anything good our troops could do in Iraq, as when they are redeployed they can't just bring a base with them. It's also expensive to maintain distant bases and do all that transport. And there's no way the American military could help maintain the civil order vital to success in Iraq, which sectarian violence threatens.

So other than the fact that redeployment is very costly, guarantees failure, and continues the strain on our military families, I see no reason to oppose it.

Posted by: The Angry One | November 13, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

This column is asinine on its face. As with all Wash Post (so-called) journalists, Mr. Dodds starts with the basic assumption that the American/Israeli Middle East imperium is paramount and perpetual. As a result, any individual which questions this neocon gospel is automatically labeled a lunatic or a pariah!

America's Middle East tragedy did not result from actual Arab threats. The ongoing catastrophe developed from the policies of our "domestic" imperialists and supremacists who wish to dominate the region, no matter what the cost in blood or treasure!

Posted by: David G. Ward | November 13, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

When is the neo-imperialist non-fact-checker going to realize that pulling out of Iraq isn't "radical" as he indicates, it is imperative, moral, and responsible.

What a GOP wanker.

BTW, where are the columns on Cheny and Bush? If he doesn't start with the Liars-in-Chief he has no credibility. Zip. Zero.

Another Washington Post inside villager, convinced the Foreign Policy Establishment is oh so wise , and we little peons shouldn't challenge the "serious" men who are in control.

Posted by: Joe Douglas | November 13, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

It seems lately you have been targeting Bill Richardson on his missteps. Why havent you chosen the missteps of Hillary Clinton. I bet you can find alot more missteps.

Posted by: GI | November 13, 2007 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I read an article in The Post this morning by Richard Cohen, "Mr Competent". Fact of the matter is "Mr Competent" is already in the race. A fact that the majority of the press has ignored. His name is Joe Biden. There is no one even close on Foreign affairs. His record on domestic issues is stellar. Ask yourself this question. If you were one of the other candidates in either party, Who would you least like to debate one on one?

New paragraph, The best campaign slogan I can remember in my lifetime was "I LIKE IKE". In light of the democratic debates thus far I think there is the second best emerging. The other democratic candidates have coined it. "I AGREE WITH JOE". Hopefully the Iowa Caucus Goers have picked up on it.

Posted by: dbl06 | November 13, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Gravel kucinich paul nader perot carter [conyers?] united for truth elicit fear smear blacklist.

Honesty compassion intelligence guts.

No more extortion blackmail bribery division.
Divided we fall.

Posted by: gravel kucinich paul nader | November 13, 2007 1:08 PM | Report abuse

ps - thnx for post...

Posted by: gravel kucinich paul nader | November 13, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Just another example of the media's open pro-Clinton bias. You call Hillary the candidate of "experience" despite the fact that she failed in her Health Care endeavor in the 90s and has accomplished nothing as a senator except to rubber-stamp Bush's Iraq War and now is preparing to do the same for Bush's Iran War. You fail to note how overwhelmingly successful Richardson has been as governor - every child under 12 has access to health care in New Mexico, he's raised teacher pay, cut taxes and created thousands of jobs. He also happens to be something of an expert on the Middle East, especially compared to Obama, Edwards and Clitnon, he has a lot of experience as a diplomat in that region, something no other candidate can say. I'm sorry you have to tear Richardson down to help your beloved warhawk Hillary Clinton, but Richardson is right on this issue, and he will win the presidency.

Posted by: PeaceLover | November 13, 2007 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Candidate Watch deserves four Pinocchios for this misleading posting.

It is time for the media to stop touting the prowess of the Clinton political machine and actually examine her "plan" for ending the U.S. occupation. Clinton has never called for a prompt and complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. When questioned on whether she will commit to specific date for the end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, as noted by Helen Thomas, Clinton reverts to "her usual cautious equivocation." She leaves open the possibility our troops will remain until 2013. The Post's David Broder accurately commented that Clinton plays "dodgeball" on the question of leaving Iraq:

"During the debate, she rarely came out of a defensive crouch, as if determined to protect her favored position. Answering the first question, she said her goal would be to withdraw all American troops from Iraq by 2013, but "it is very difficult to know what we are going to be inheriting" from the Bush administration, so she cannot make any pledge -- as Richardson and others feel free to do. Troops might be needed for counterterrorism work for many years."

What circumstances must exist in Iraq in 2009 to permit a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq? Clinton is silent on this critical point.

What is Clinton's actual "plan" for leaving Iraq? In the time honored tradition of politicians that recognize an issue must be addressed but lack any understanding to how to do so, Clinton calls for a study. As explained on her campaign website:

"As president, one of Hillary's first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration."

Clinton doesn't say the U.S. will begin withdrawing from Iraq in 60 days. Instead, Clinton simply asks the military and other advisers to give her a plan within two months.

This begs the question: what if Clinton's advisers repeat the mantra of the D.C. political and military establishment that Iraq is too unstable and a withdrawal of our forces will threaten U.S. interests in the region?

What is clear is that Clinton lacks confidence in her own judgment. Instead, Clinton relies upon the architects of the Iraq morass and those that have deemed the surge successful to advise her of the course of action to take in Iraq. We can expect her advisers plan for Iraq will be a hawkish plan.

Look at whom is advising Clinton today on Iraq and military affairs. Among her military advisers, as reported in the Post, are Gen. John ("Jack") Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, former deputy chief of staff for intelligence; retired Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick, who served as President Clinton's deputy national security adviser; retired Col. Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; and Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings senior fellow. These are the persons that will form her inner circle of advisers should she become President.

Let's examine each of these persons.

Jack Keane was "Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during Iraq war planning" and at one time an outspoken in supporter of Rumsfeld. In July 2003, Keane praised Tommy Franks' war plan for the Iraq campaign as "bold and brilliant."

There never was a comprehensive plan in place to secure and rebuild the country. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded our forces in Iraq, recently stated that our war plan was "catastrophically flawed [and] unrealistically optimistic."

In July 2004, Keane admitted in testimony that:

"We did not see it (the insurgency) coming. And we were not properly prepared and organized to deal with it . . . . Many of us got seduced by the Iraqi exiles in terms of what the outcome would be."

Two years later, Keane stated:

"If we had planned for an insurgency, we probably would have deployed the First Cavalry Division and it would have assisted greatly with the initial occupation. This was not just an intelligence community failure, but also our failure as senior military leaders."

Fast forward to December 2006, whom is meeting with President Bush and advocating an escalation of the war in what became known as the "surge"? Yes, the answer is Keane. He along with Frederick Kagan developed the strategy of the surge.

Claudia Kennedy, another supporter of the war, was "absolutely" certain Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. In April 2003, when asked why no WMD had been discovered, she responded:

"If absolutely nothing was found after months of thorough searching, my question would be -- where was it shipped? If such weapons are not in the country, they must have been shipped out because we absolutely know they were there."

Kennedy believes that it is not our invasion of Iraq that has caused so much difficulty for the U.S. Rather, the war has been botched by President Bush. Kennedy recently made national headlines when she stated:

"I don't oppose the war. I think it's being very badly led by the civilian leadership. I have not ever heard (Clinton) say, 'I oppose the war.'"

Donald Kerrick wrote an essay last year entitled "Iraq Not Lost Yet". While calling for a review of our strategy in Iraq, Kerrick opposed those he labeled as advocating the U.S. cut and run. Such a course would lose Iraq to the extremists.

Andrew Krepinevich believes a sustained U.S. presence is crucial to the future of Iraq. The U.S. has no choice in Iraq because if we leave Iraq will descend into civil war.

In October 2005, Krepinevich published an essay criticizing the U.S. intervention in Iraq as lacking a coherent strategy which resulted in the failure of U.S. forces to defeat the insurgency or improve security.

Krepinevich believed a winning strategy for Iraq could still be developed, one that focused on providing security to Iraqis rather than hunting down insurgents. However, "victory" in Iraq will come at a steep price according to Krepinevich:

"Even if successful, this strategy will require at least a decade of commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars and will result in longer U.S. casualty rolls. But this is the price that the United States must pay if it is to achieve its worthy goals in Iraq."

This year, Krepinevich sees the surge, if successful, resulting in American forces staying "in Iraq for decades -- much as we have in Korea, for example, to ensure the security of that part of the world, we will have to have 30,000, 40,000 soldiers in Iraq, I think indefinitely."

Michael O'Hanlon is another supporter of President Bush's surge. In an Op Ed entitled "A War We Just Might Win" published in the New York Times in July 2007, O'Hanlon argued, "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms."

After the Presidential debate at Dartmouth College in which Clinton, Edwards and Obama all refused to commit to withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq by 2013, O'Hanlon praised them for their "flexibility" on Iraq. "I think the Democratic position allows all three of the top people to move in the Republican direction if things move around in the next twelve months," O'Hanlon stated.

In conclusion, Clinton's plan for ending the war is weak and imprecise. She refuses to commit to bring all of our troops home by the end of her first term in office. Clinton's military and diplomatic advisers believe our invasion of Iraq was justified and a military solution exits for resolving the war. If Clinton becomes President, the opportunity to end our open-ended military intervention in Iraq may very well be lost.

What is the alternative? There is a Democratic candidate for President that says as long as U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq the hard work of reconciliation among Iraqi factions is postponed. He has called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq now, pledges to bring all U.S. troops (both combat and non-combat) home promptly upon taking office and has offered a plan to achieve this.

This candidate is being advised by military and diplomatic experts that have been highly critical of the U.S. intervention in the Iraq and strongly advocate an immediate exit from Iraq.

Whom is this candidate? His name is Bill Richardson.

Posted by: Stephen Cassidy | November 13, 2007 1:40 PM | Report abuse

What is "radical" about proposing a total withdrawal from Iraq? Is bush's policy of remaining in Iraq indefinitely "radical"?

Look at the polls. Bush's policy is the radical one, drawing less than 30% support for his handling of Iraq.

Posted by: thomas c | November 13, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

"If you try, you lie", was the maxim my father taught me. You either do, or you don't; if you try, it will never happen.

That same maxim needs to be applied to the presidential campaign. Failing to commit to having all troops out by 2013 is "trying" to remove troops sooner. It is not going to happen. That's why you make a commitment.

Hillary Clinton won't make that commitment.
Bill Richardson has and will.

Barack Obama won't make that commitment.
Bill Richardson has and will.

John Edwards won't make that commitment
Bill Richardson has and will

Senators Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are all merely "trying" to get our troops out sooner.

If you "try", you lie.

Posted by: David Buchanan | November 13, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

'Since August'. If summer 2007 was already bloodier than summer 2006 by the end of August, with still three weeks of summer left (presumably with more dead), then I don't see how Richardson's statement about that comparison is wrong. If you are going to set yourself up as a Fact Checker, then stick to facts.

Posted by: S | November 13, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

You quote Richardson as saying:

"George Bush's "surge" has failed: this summer was the bloodiest yet, and there's no end in sight."

You admit that he is entitled to his opinion that the surge has failed (though it really is a fact given Bush's claim that the goal was to give the Iraqis room to compromise, which they did not). Then you admit that this was the bloodiest summer. You say it is radical to suggest all troops leave Iraq, which sure sounds like no end in sight. What end can be seen with Bush's current policies.

Then you essentially say Richardson lied.


You owe him and your readership and apology. His statement is 100% demonstrably accurate, nor is it in any way misleading.

Why don't you fact check the administration on their Iran claims? What basis do they have to say that Iranians are supplying IEDs, especially when a high-tech IED factory was found in Iraq and reported on in your paper? Blaming Iran for weapons in Iraq is like blaming the US since we supplied Saddam, except there is no proof that the Iranian government was involved like ours was. How can Iran stop smuggling of weapons? Why can't Iran supply the Iraqi government with weapons, some of which no doubt will get sold on the black market (just like the 190,000 US post-war weapons that he Post reported to have gone missing).

That fact-checking might help stop another baseless war unlike your nit-picking of Richardson's completely accurate statements.

Posted by: Ed | November 13, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

What Lon and others said and asked. You describe the claim that "this summer was the bloodiest yet" as both "true" and "not accurate".

Posted by: Crust | November 13, 2007 4:06 PM | Report abuse

"You describe the claim that "this summer was the bloodiest yet" as both "true" and "not accurate"."
Let me repeat what I said. It is NOT ACCURATE that this summer was the bloodiest summer for Iraqi civilians. It was less bloody than last summer, according to Iraq Body Count, an independent monitoring group. It is TRUE that the months of June and July (in fact the first seven months of this year) were among the bloodiest for U.S. troops. But the U.S. death toll, and the Iraqi civilian death toll, has been coming down since August.
I am sorry if the nuances confuse you, but you can't always be black-and-white.

Posted by: Fact Checker | November 13, 2007 4:55 PM | Report abuse

The "bloodiest" claims are messy. May, June, and July of this year were each the bloodiest of those months since the conflict began. August, nearly so. But September was pretty typical and October was clearly the least bloody October since the conflict began. November is on pace to be the least bloody by far. We could well be on the way to the least bloody autumn of the conflict. "Summer" is a bit vague about when it starts and ends, but Richardson's claim is almost certainly correct with any reasonable interpretation.

His claim is, however, also quite misleading. He had more recent statistics available in September and October, and avoided using them because the surge's current success (however temporary it may turn out to be) would then be evident. Richardson and the other hyperdoves would focus group very poorly if those facts were well known.

Two pinocchios fit a highly misleading claim, even if the stated facts are correct.


Posted by: The Angry One | November 13, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Dear Fact Checker, thank you for the reply.

You write:

"It is NOT ACCURATE that this summer was the bloodiest summer for Iraqi civilians [according to Iraq Body Count]."

Thank you for clarifying what you are arguing. I read Richardson as making the accurate statement that this summer is the "bloodiest" in terms of American troops. Indeed, the next sentence after the snippet you quote begins "Our troops", which would tend to support this. In fairness, your reading is also plausible. So one might accuse Richardson of making a misleading statement, but I think "not accurate" is overwrought.

Another important nuance: As you surely know, the accuracy of Iraq Body Count is hotly disputed. Both the respected British polling firm ORB and a team of epidemiologists publishing in The Lancet (a top medical journal) have separately concluded that IBC numbers are too low an estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths by more than an order of magnitude. So one should be tentative in using their data. In fairness, people do use the IBC trends to extrapolate ORB and Lancet numbers, so perhaps the trends are more reliable than the levels, but still I think the reality is we simply have very little idea of what is truly going on in terms of Iraqi civilian deaths.

Posted by: Crust | November 13, 2007 5:45 PM | Report abuse

To David G. Ward,

His name is Dobbs. D-O-B-B-S. Not Dodds.
Does your obsession with accuracy extend to your arguments?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 13, 2007 5:54 PM | Report abuse

And one more point about IBC data: Even if you do take it at face value as a reasonably accurate measure of Iraqi civilian deaths (not just of press coverage), you have to be careful in comparing recent months. IBC historical estimates are moving targets. They continually go back and increase past estimates as they find and work through press reports. This effect is naturally more important for recent months. For this reason, there is a built in bias to their methodology that -- everything else equal -- you will tend to see a decrease in mortality in recent months.

I'll spare you the snarky closing sentence about confusing nuances mean that life isn't always black-and-white. ;) In all honesty, this effect is probably smaller than the recent decreases. The bigger issue is to what extent their estimates are accurate for actual deaths (as opposed to reported deaths).

Posted by: Crust | November 13, 2007 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Mr. "Fact Checker",

Why does violence in the fall of 2007 have any effect on the truthfulness of Bill Richardson's statement that this has been the bloodiest summer yet? And you admit yourself that it has been -- at least as far as American troops are concerned. You cannot in fairness claim that Mr. Richardson is misrepresenting the truth here.

This is not an issue of "nuances." Your job is to inform us when candidates are making statements which are demonstrably at odds with the FACTS -- not your interpretation of another politician's position or your prediction for the future of Iraq.

I am not a fan of Bill Richardson, but this column looks like nothing more than a hatchet job to me. The Washington Post should hold its writers to higher standards than this...

Posted by: Steve | November 13, 2007 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Richardson is a plant.

The Clinton and Richardson camps have been closely linked over the years, and Richardson's only reason for running is to sap some anti-war Dems away from Obama and make Hillary look more 'destined' to win. Richardson's policies and statements are not based on serious policy, but calculated political moves to help his eventual patron, HIllary.

Wait and see...

Posted by: Andrew | November 14, 2007 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Richardson is the best candidate on either side, and if Democrats dont see that and nominate him, they deserve to lose, and they will. Hillary is the most beatable candidate they have. Even Fox News knows that, and its why the republicans are praying that she is nominated. Wake up, Democrats, or hold your wind for the next 8 years, because you will have lost the right to expell it. The country doesnt want your Clinton.

Posted by: Saint Subversive | November 14, 2007 8:45 AM | Report abuse

"I am sorry if the nuances confuse you, but you can't always be black-and-white."

What an embarrassment to the Washington Post!

Factchecker makes black and white judgments as to the statements of candidates - and here accuses Richardson of misstating the facts on Iraq - but then admits one can't do this with respect to the central point of this story.

Forget the apology. Clinton, Obama and Edwwards at the debate at Dartmouth refused to commit to bring our troops home from Iraq by 2013. Advisers to Clinton argue the surge is working and tens of thousands of troops must be stationed in Iraq for at least the next decade. Yet Richardson is somehow lying when he points this out.

The author should go by the title Factdistorter.

Posted by: Stephen Cassidy | November 14, 2007 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Wow...So Dobbs, have you some personal agenda against Richardson or something? I know the US media has fallen off of the objectivity wagon a looonng time ago, but this is just getting ridiculous. So again, Richardson gets TWO pinocchios for something that's true, as various people have stated in the comments?

It actualy IS the bloodiest, whatever nuanced definition it is you want to use; and the other front runners DO say they won't pull out before 2013...which means the troops WILL stay in Iraq?

So do you actually take your job as a reporter seriously, or do you just use your position to influence the public towards your opinions in a secret, narcissitic manner thinking you must lead the public in the right way.

I expected more from the Washington Post. There goes my subscription, back to Reuters.

Posted by: Masha | November 15, 2007 6:02 PM | Report abuse

On the 75,000 number you might want to subtract combat troops from non-combat forces of the total number to see how many withdrawing all combat forces relates to.

Although I seem to recall edwards had a 65K number earlier in the campaign. One thing is obvious is richardson is moving the field to stronger statements on iraq with his position.

Posted by: AJH | November 20, 2007 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Actually what was said, "But he is not accurate when he claims that the last summer was "the bloodiest yet" in Iraq."

That says nothing about Iraqi civilians. In fact, the implication is that it refers to U.S. military persons, because that is the only group mentioned in that paragraph.

Personally, I agree with Richardson on Iraq and I'm planning on voting for him. I wish people who believe the war should end would vote for Richardson too.

Posted by: David | December 8, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

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